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Traditional Subjects is an ongoing project of photographing individuals who are working to preserve their Native American cultures and traditions.

Navajo painter, RC Gorman   On an extremely hot summer's evening in June 1994, RC Gorman sat for me on the prairie near his Taos, New Mexico home. He was sweltering under a 100-year-old wool blanket and gallantly tolerating mosquito bites to pose for this portrait.

 

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Couple in Woodland Regalia   Debbie and Robin Hassinger of Cassopolis, Michigan pose in their Women's and Men's Traditional Woodland outfits. Debbie is a 13th great-granddaughter of Pocahontas and therefore 14th of Wahunsunacawh, chief of the Powhatans. She's also a grand niece of John Curtis Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It adds up to a bloodline of Cherokee and Powhatan plus Irish and German. She designed her outfit with roses to represent the Cherokees' Trail Of Tears and shamrocks to represent her Irish heritage. The fringe was taken from the hide dress that she made and wore for her naming many years ago. Her spiritual name is Menoanungqwa, meaning Good Star Woman. She is retired, now being a housewife and involved in the ministries in their church. She has pride and responsibilities that, as a woman elder, she takes very seriously. Robin is Ojibwe with a spiritual name of Ma Day We Mgizee, meaning Strong Heart Eagle. A senior designer for BorgWarner, he made his entire woodland regalia which consists of floral oriented bead work and a typical black background. 'I spent one winter beading my turban and another winter beading the top. The beads that hang in the front are an old way' His outfit, one of several, consists of deer toe jingles on the ankles, buffalo on the knees, cuffs and the tail of his fan, wild turkey spurs on his necklace and a muskrat medicine bag. The sassafras dance stick was a gift from his mother. A vine grew around it forming the spiral. The eagle head, foot and feathers for his bustle were also gifted. 'I grew up hunting, fishing living off and with the land and nature.' says Robin. 'I believe it is important we teach our children this and not let modern technology take such a big hold on our children. Teach them to plant, harvest, respect, nurture and pray more.' Giveaways, attributes of Indian generosity, are an important part of a pow wow and are preceded by an Honor Song. The tradition of the giveaway is an ancient practice. Leaders and chiefs reinforced their status by distributing personal wealth among others. In essence, paying for or honoring their position with gift giving. Worthy gifts included horses, weapons, clothing, blankets, and food. At a pow wow, the giveaway has become a ceremony where a person, family or organization is honored. In return they give away many gifts to their friends, the staff, dancers or anyone else of the givers' choosing, as acknowledgment of appreciation for honor or service given to the people. There are personal giveaways as well as general or end of pow wow giveaways, such as the one pictured here, in which each recipient has a turn choosing from the gifts being offered. When receiving a gift, the recipient thanks everyone involved in the giving.

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Odawa in Traditional Regalia   Ron Wittenberg serves on the tribal council of the Little River Band of Odawa Indians located in Manistee. In Michigan, the Odawa (Ottawa) traditionally used lands throughout what is now the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan for hunting, cultivating and gathering. The Little River Band lived along the Manistee River, Pere Marquette River and in several villages on the Grand River. The Odawa are in the Council of Three Fires alliance with the Potawatomi and Ojibwe. All are among the Anishinaabeg nations that inhabited the Great Lakes region and speak variations of the Algonquin language. Ron, a full-blooded Odawa, is wearing a Men's Traditional Regalia consisting of woodlands and western elements. The leggings, for instance, are tight without fringe and his porcupine hair roach is cut back in the front in the woodlands style, but the eagle feather bustle is western. Horse hair dangles from the feather ends. He did the bead work on his eagle dance stick with colors honoring the service of his brothers and others in Vietnam. Otherwise, 'everything I wear was gifted' by family and friends. His spiritual name is Bah Maa mii Nini meaning Man Looks Around. Ron's turtle shell depicts walking the Red Road into the red and purple sunset: life's journey. The colors around the perimeter and the yellow dots on the feathers of his fan represent the four directions. Yellow is the east and the start of a new day.

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Priscilla and Jose Vigil of Tesuque Pueblo   On one of my visits to Tesuque Pueblo, the Vigils cordially agreed to dress and pose for me in the pueblo center. Their son was the pueblo governor at the time.

 

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Roy Jealous of Him   Roy Jealous of Him, a Lakota Sioux, outside his one room cabin on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

 

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